Ideas and thoughts about market research fieldwork in the UK.
What a poetic phrase! It literally means that you have spent or lost all your money and are broken. And for a company to "go bust" it must be "declared insolvent". Not saying it or announcing it or admitting it but DECLARING IT! All the headlines for business look so awful during the Covid-19 crisis. Companies collapsing into administration; businesses closing their doors; dreams broken into tiny pieces. Maybe there is another side to all this. Maybe people are sick of fighting and maybe declaring is actually a relief. Bankruptcy is never fun. I just hope that for everyone fighting, those that do declare discover a future better than they ever imagined.
These are the two options available to most of us:
How many staff should answer their phone on a Saturday? What's the policy regarding postponement and cancellation? How quickly following the end of the fieldwork are the respondents paid? Can I contact the people who took part in my study? How many steps from the train station to the research venue?
Three quick tips for anyone who cares about this:
Pine nuts are served by the handful and it's literally impossible to check everyone so a bad tasting pine nut can ruin a whole mouthful. A pineapple is different. You pick it up and smell it and if you don't like it you can simply choose another pineapple. If you are selling pineapples the goal is to make your pineapples the best that there is. If you are selling pine nuts the goal is to get a uniform size and shape and eliminate all defects. Pineapples are about looking and smelling great and appealing to the individual. Pineapple buyers get to choose! The pine nut producers needs to focus on statistical - and data-driven processes like Six Sigma to limit mistakes or defects.
From a very early age we are taught how to behave towards people in authority. By the time we get to school the emphasis is on being 'good student' and that translates into "being a good employee". But in many ways this can lead to being "safe" and never challenging the way things are done because a) you don't want to rock the boat and b) there is a risk of failure so all your "good employee" kudos is lost. But does this truly help your boss? Isn't the truth that maximising what you do as opposed to minimizing and being safe the only way you can raise the bar? You might fail, you might get reprimanded, but if you want real growth you need to see those in authority as resources not limits.
We either ignore brands or we judge them, and most of the time with hardly any information. A good brand has a laser like focus, knows exactly who its target audience is, has a clearly defined mission, knows its USP, can identify its key values, tell its story from the beginning and have a brand identity reflective of these goals, and does all of this consistently. Seems so obvious. What is less obvious is an in built ability to discipline, ostracise or even expel the negative within. A good brand will fight not to get hurt from both within and without. "You're hurting us, this is wrong, we are expelling you."
So what lessons have we learned along the way?
Lesson 1: In fact, you can make a difference, you can begin something from nothing and grow it without authority or permission. Passionate people on a mission make change happen.
Lesson 2: You must be prepared to stick at it, to push yourself, to last longer than you ever expected and to care so much it actually hurts you.
It's so easy to be disappointed that you are not a huge success. But what does huge success truly mean? In market research I suppose it means being known beyond the sector, having a swanky office in London (with a viewing studio attached!), maybe even multiple offices across the globe. All we've done is bring new staff into the sector, consistently deliver top class fieldwork and recruitment for our clients, and offer members of the public amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to take part in cutting edge market research that makes the world better for everyone. There will always be someone telling you that you're not cool enough, clever enough, business minded enough or whatever enough. That's their agenda. But what's yours? Always shun the non-believers.
It's all about efficient internal operations, true fieldwork knowledge, a positive attitude, creative problem solving skills, fast response times, a highly personalised service, full support to whatever level you need, a focus on wider trends so we can add value for clients over time, and above all else absolute ownership of the fieldwork.
I suppose what this really means is that the things that have the most value or quality cost nothing - in other words the price of something does not always properly indicate its value. The extra care, the extra love, the extra attention. It doesn't cost anything at all really.
I once heard a joke about how Hallmark Cards invented various occasions simply to sell more cards so when I heard about World Back Up Day I immediately thought that the people at Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud are having a joke on us. But it's true, it exists and let's face it, if you care about it, you probably should back it up.
You learn a lot about yourself (and others) during a slow news day. You know the sort of days I am talking about. The days when there's no big problem to solve, fewer than normal new business enquiries, no dramatics on the business front.
So what do you do? Do you get to grips with all that "should have/could have" admin that's built up? Do you check over those long term ventures you are working on (the ones that could potentially expose you to failure but you're prepared to take the risk)? Do you start calling around those clients you promised yourself you'd chase up? Or do you do nothing?
Obviously I love my phone - who doesn't? That's my life right there in my pocket. But everyone knows that if you want to do the proper work you need to be sat at your desk in front of your screen (if you're like me in front of your two screens), trawling through the project details and dotting the I's and crossing the T's. Phones are obviously great, and we couldn't like without them, but we don't do our best work on them.
It's not the same as stealing and you will probably find that you and everyone around you benefits.
If something doesn't have a limit then the answer is infinity but in reality it probably means that the limit has not been defined. So the question is, who is defining the limit and are they mathematically capable of doing so? Maybe the limiter has good intentions for us i.e. trying to save us from doing something stupid, or maybe we ourselves are the limiter because we believe we can never be good enough. No matter what the limit appears to say, the mathematical problem should be frequently revisited and the approach continually revised.
Isn't this the ultimate in everything?
Stronger than those around you - so you can protect and serve and deliver what you said you would.
Faster than the rest - fast to do things, to respond, to get up and go, to succeed.
And more - more options (but not too many, because too many is confusing), more care, more love, more everything.
A great supplier will point out to the client possible pitfalls and problems with the project before beginning the work and immediately put in place contingency plans in order to look out for the best interest of the client and ultimately the success of the project. When the planned for problem strikes the great supplier can take care of the issue seamlessly and immediately for the client, thus truly looking out for their best interests. It's the opposite of short changing a client or trying to do as little as possible for the most revenue or trying to squeeze efficiencies out of your already streamlines processes. Are we out of our minds? Probably.
I remember hearing the story about how it was theoretically impossible for bumble bees to fly because their little wings could not possibly generate the lift required to get them off the ground. Obviously bumble bees know absolutely nothing about fluid dynamics and just continued flying around until some researcher discovered that bumble bee wings generate tiny air vortexes that increase airflow and allow them to fly. Sometimes theories are wrong and sometimes all things are possible - nothing is ever settled (in theory).
It's quite easy to be original - you just need to follow your passions and grab all the opportunities you are presented with and have the ideas that no one else has. It is about understanding what makes you different and challenging yourself every day to add something new to world (whenever you can - these things can take a while!).
Get totally organised.
Keep detailed records of everything.
Be creative all the time.
Stay focused on your objectives.
Provide a great service for your clients.
It's easy to look for the fastest perceived solution to fix a problem. Usually a client, a staff member, or the public at large is to blame. So the project was lost because the bid didn't win or the sales are down because the marketing is wrong. But sometimes you must step back and take a deeper look. Maybe the customer journey is unclear or you have lots of tech that doesn't quite work and still think more tech is the answer. When an underlying problem is not solved first the problem will always continue.
Everyone is always running from point to point, paying no real attention, taking nothing in. It's hard to get anyone's attention for long these days. Far better to concentrate on the few that are willing to slow down, to stop lurching from supplier to supplier, and who actually pay attention and stick around for the ride.
Erika Mitchell was originally publishing her own fan fiction based on the Twilight books and films. She found it such a thrill that she created a new pseudonym and again she self-published. But this time the on-demand print sales turned into thousands and by the time Fifty Shades of Grey was re-released by Vintage Books in 2012 it became the fastest selling paperback of all time in the UK. It's part of our DNA to wait to be picked - to send our work off and to wait for approval. For the HR Manager to offer us the job. For the client to pick our proposal. For the industry leader (or the industry itself) to offer its approval. So if there's a chance to pick yourself then you take it - HR, the client, the industry will soon follow.
Apparently it is possible to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the first time and see nothing new or exciting. Same with The Colosseum in Rome. So it seems that it's possible to miss "the big idea" because we only see what we want to see. That's why fieldwork is so important. If you want to understand a Mercedes driver go and spend some time with him or her; if you want to see how a busy Mum operates talk to her about getting the children off to school in the morning; if you want to understand how Financial Directors have weathered the pandemic sit down and crunch their thoughts and their numbers. Only when you understand things can you really offer up the ideas.
Stephen Fry once said that the joy of 70s supergroup ABBA was: "That they were far, far, better than they needed to be. There was a dedicated pursuit of pop craft that offered an undefinable elevated and inspirational quality to what they did.". Let's all aim to be far, far, better than we need to be.
In the middle of a stage play actor Michael Sheen broke character and asked an audience member to switch off their phone. He understands that all work is a work of co-creation and if the other party is not working with you, egging you on and encouraging you then they are not doing their part - they are actually tearing you down. He is a professional and so are you. I am not asking you to halt a performance at The National Theatre. But I am asking you to demand that you get the attention you deserve.
None of us like to get hurt and we work hard to protect ourselves. For some people getting hurt means a client that is not satisfied no matter how hard you tried to please them; for others it is a boss that called out a mistake on a project. But the question I am asking is what does it really cost to project yourself? What does it cost to duck down and avoid the hit? All the time ducking and hiding could stop you stretching and growing. So forgive the client that was annoyed. Forgive the tactless boss. Focus on how great you are because ducking and diving is no good for anyone.
These ready-made cheese balls are very successful because they are loved by kids and adults and are the ultimate lunchbox snack - convenient, 100% real cheese, free from added colours, flavours, and preservatives - and they are fun! They were born in mini form in 1977 and have been a best seller ever since. So don't try to be the next Mini Babybel. That ship has sailed. Instead find out who you are and be that.
You come in on time, sometimes even early; you do everything as described in your job description and everything that your boss asks, you deliver for clients and are hardworking and loyal. You could be asking to do more than you believe you are ready for. To work on understanding what your agenda is; you could be trying to go faster and working on your legacy. Creating a world where you are the absolute linchpin of the company. I wonder what someone with all the potential you have inside you would be doing...
Once the innovation is over isn't this when the great work can begin? I don’t know who invented the piano but I do know it wasn’t Beethoven. It's only when the technorati get out of the way that the great work can really begin. The real work is about doing something that lasts and that matters. It's about connecting with others and delivering an impact that lasts. So by all means show me the next big thing but don’t be upset if I am still busy on the old big thing.
Which matters most – facts or feelings?
How do you deal with someone who disagrees with you?
Are you able to cope with multiple viewpoints?
Can you give someone else the credit?
Are you willing to change your mind?
Are there many pathways to your goal? (Bonus points if you have a goal!)
It costs a fortune to take time out and go to conferences, and other than having a blast with friends why go? Yes there are the presentations, the research papers, the innovations, and the crowded parties. Do you remember them all? I don't. So I don't do them (so go ahead and have all the fun without me). However I do remember the engaging conversations and learning through those one-on-one discussions about projects people are working on and their new book ideas - so do more of that. Seek out the great engaged conversations and the special interactions that matter.
It's easy to work lots of extra hours so that you reduce the number of tasks you have to do so that you are in control of everything and reduce your self-induced stress. But maybe sometimes it's good to feel a bit of stress to push us into a new way of thinking about how to approach things, to force ourselves to innovate, to free ourselves from the shackles of targeting reduced anxiety and forcing us onto a new and better approach.
I don't like the term "unskilled labour". It is the skills someone has that everyone possesses and is therefore devalued. Obviously skills matter - the more skills you have the higher you are likely to achieve. But unskilled still needs a re-brand.
Everyone is happier and more productive when they are trusted. It encourages co-operation between people and organisations. We like museums that let us stand near the artwork, police that don't stop and search us, restaurants that give us the bill at the end of the meal. But some companies cannot rely on trust and genuine good intentions. Banks must behave as is every transaction is a fraudulent one - it annoys us when our cards are stopped because of "unusual spending" but the banks know that people do get scammed and they behave accordingly. That trust / don't trust decision is something we all face every day. We automatically make assumptions about whether promises will be broken, how trustworthy a supplier is, how reliable the service will be. In every sector (apart from banking) it is probably better to trust than not to. You are more likely to get the result you need.
And isn't that all that matters? Being famous in your group or your tribe? I mean I know Andy Warhol predicted that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame but what if we already do. Maybe just being known (and loved) by the people that matter most is, in the end, all that matters.
We all know that the best suppliers anticipate your needs before you are able to fully articulate them. It goes beyond putting yourself in the other person's shoes and walking around in them. Because you can never be them, you can only be you. So sometimes you need to drop your beliefs, expectations, and view of the world in order to know what is the best thing to do for your client. To understand where they are coming from and to make sure they get where they need to be.
Most people find it easy to make promises and less easy to keep them, and if you're not careful, it builds up against you. So the first thing to understand is what your promise actually is and why it is important. Once you understand your promise and know why your promise is important, you will not only work very hard to keep it, but it will go on to inspire just about every decision you make moving forward. Think about the places that you love to go to - the places you like to eat, shop or get a haircut. It is highly likely that they have become places you visit not just for the quality service but for the familiar, friendly faces you see and the fact that they already know what you need before you say a word. This kind of service not only sounds really nice but exists because everyone involved is keeping their promise to you. The business understands the promise it made to you, and it keeps its promise. And the business delivers for you.
When faced with facts and proof we expect a rational person to make an intelligent decision on what is better. But that does not always happen. People make decisions based on hope, fear, what others appear to be doing, and what they believe has worked in the past. Viral stories and shocking testimonies can trump detailed data. We see this with the anti-vax movement. Ultimately they believe that vaccines do not really work and have hurt more people than helped. There is no point having endless fact-based discussions. No amount of data will change their mind because "it's all fake and it all comes from big pharma". What's needed is a series of stories and testimonials from those in the group who have changed their minds. These mind changing stories need to be shouted. The ripple effect will begin. Over time more will change their minds. It may take a while but it will happen. The proof of it is that these days it's very hard to find people that still believe the earth is flat.
Most people think that you are showing your true colours when you are stressed and striving to meet a deadline, dealing with a serious problem at work, doing something that makes your question your moral code, suddenly find yourself in charge and have a chance to throw your weight around, get caught when you thought no-one could see you, get a chance to punish someone who has harmed you, or are completely crushed by your problems. This is when you need to tell your story. This is when people need to hear the truth about you.
I like doing what I am asked. To some people that means doing only the minimum requirement. But what it really means is becoming engaged in a good cause. Whenever I am asked to do something, I rarely need step by step instructions because I don't just want to do the job, I want to do it right and perfectly. It's all about involving people, asking questions, making recommendations, offering to help, and pitching ideas. Getting things done right means being proactive and not waiting for life to come to you. It means being on the offensive, not the defensive. Being active, not passive. Most of the time it means innovating inside the box not necessarily thinking outside it.
Apparently one of the most important quotes in business management is "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it". Which made me think about what we measure and why. Does something become important because it is measured or do we measure it because it is important? Does counting something make it count?
The thing that makes you popular might be the thing that stops you succeeding. When you were in school there would have been someone who was always messing around and making people laugh. He may have been the popular class clown but that definitely got in the way of his education. It's the same when you first meet someone. You can act a certain way and be fun and happy and if it is a client you might even get a meeting out of it. But will you get the work? There are so many ways to be popular. Or even more popular. But is popular what you are after?
Most people do not believe they have the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do. At the same time, nearly everyone thinks they can correct, comment on, or in some cases totally pull apart! That's why millions of tweets every day are re-tweets or replies - because it is easier to respond than it is to start. This is not because people do not want to start. It is because most people believe that they are more useful if they help an initiative rather than create one themselves. The world needs more people that will start things.
Don't you just hate it when you are in a long queue in your car and another driver steams past you and at the last moment cuts in at the front? Of course, you could do what they do, and push in. There is no reason for your to patiently wait. Or maybe you are the selfish one, who doesn't think about other drivers. This is completely different from the woman who sees people patiently queuing to enter a building through a single door. She walks past everyone and opens the second door. Now, with two doors open, the queue is finally moving. She definitely earned her place at the front of that queue! Too often, we are led to believe that taking the initiative combined with right minded thinking and trashing the status quo is like queue jumping. Nothing but a selfish act. But sometimes it is opening a second door for everyone to walk through.
Envision what you want to accomplish in your mind's eye. Then write it down. This a critical step because it is laying the framework to making your goal real. Once it is written down, put it somewhere easily seen. Make sure your goal is in your line of sight and in your mind every single day. Develop your plan. This is not your complete plan or even your final plan. This is just your beginning plan. Chances are your plan will change, re-route and evolve. That's fine because you will evolve too.
The Journal of Media Psychology found that people watch scary films for three main reasons: tension, relevance, and unrealism. Those who like horror due to its "unrealism" enjoy it because they know for a fact that it is all fake anyway. For them, it is just pure entertainment and fun. In reality enjoyment and fear do not go together. You cannot get "in the zone" and do your best work when you are operating through fear. Everything great that has ever been invented or developed was done so by someone who was really enjoying it. By someone who was fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Someone who was in the zone and completely connected. That doesn't happen when you are fearful.
Years ago, when Indiefield started out, all we wanted to do was win huge projects worth millions and be a big hit. Then, a decade later, a strange thing happened. What happened? In short, recommendations. Our clients suggested to their friends in the business and their colleagues in the office that they call Indiefield whenever they need recruitment and fieldwork. People took the suggestion, agreed wholeheartedly, and subsequently recommended their friends and colleagues. More sales, more recommendations, and the positive feedback loop kicked in. And we realised that real success relies on a long tail. It relies on people talking to people and word of mouth and great fieldwork and recruitment for big and broad clients.
(This isn't about my hair!) It is possible to be straight and curly at the same time. Straight is the tough thing to improve once the processes are in place. After all it is hard to get straighter than straight. Good processes keep the business running smoothly, create order that is valued, but improving them gets more difficult as well. Trying to make the organised more organised is a pain in the proverbial. But within your work you can find something liberating - something wild even! You can create productive chaos, you can interrupt, re-create, produce, invent, and redefine. There you go, now everything is bouncy and curly. And you just made the straight ruler even straighter.
Tell people exactly what you are doing and make sure they know it will happen. "I've got this and I'm on it" "You will have it today" No-one wants an automated reply that says "up to 5 working days". Clients want to know that you care more about their projects than that.
...people that do fieldwork. It does not matter what the subject is. It could be with high net worth individuals regarding their future car buying intentions. Or low-income families about how they manage their household budget. What matters, what makes it fieldwork, is that the person who delivers it engaged the respondent, overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt, and did an interview worth doing. Something good. Something human. Something that will make the world a better place.
You would probably be shocked at the amount of planning and preparation that goes on behind the scenes to make the perfect market research event. Beyond making a list (and checking it twice) it means recruiting respondents, liaising with the venue, lighting, installations, filming, deliveries, catering - depending on the research this list can seem never ending. And you need to have an eye on every single detail so that all the elements are perfect. But above all else you need to create an environment where a respondent can make a powerful exchange with a client. No matter how large the project is, it needs to be intimate enough to generate conversations that matter.
Otherwise why plan at all? And be sure to write down your plans and make them known. Pick out a team of people that can help you deliver the plan. Shake off people that think your plan is stupid. They will not support your plan so you may as well ignore them. You know that if you make a big plan the chances are something will happen. Are you doubting that you can do any of what you do? Good. Then make the big plan.
If, in the work you do, there are people out there that cost less than you and are offering a product or service that is a reasonable comparison for your work then you are probably not going to get the work you want because you are, on balance, not worth it. And then you end up having to chase the cheaper prices which we all know is ultimately a race to the bottom. So how about instead of being cheaper you become incomparable, crucial, and invaluable? Obviously that's the troubled track to take because it means you have to become really, really good at what you do, you must totally specialise, be a risk taker, create brilliant art, deliver the science, make sure that everything you do leaves a positive impact on everyone you touch. It is either that or be cheap. I think I prefer the troubled track.
What do we do with the people we love the most? We share. We share our lives, we share our thoughts, we share our time, we even share our food and drink! So here is a treat that I am sharing with you. If you haven't read it yet and are looking for a good book to get stuck into I strongly suggest you get a copy of Humankind - A Hopeful History by the Dutch historian by Rutger Bregman. It is a warm hearted and much needed optimistic read, building on the "radical" view that most of us are decent and friendly creatures. I don't buy into all of Bregman's arguments but I do buy into his belief that human kindness lights the path to a brighter future. I highly recommend it!
I have been thinking about how a garden is like a life. You have a garden and it is yours to tend and garden and weed and live with. You can plant bad thoughts or a sow good sense of humour. And it is up to you to weed areas and to douse parts of your plot with Miracle Grow. Feel free to fertilise and nurture the thoughts and feelings that you want to grow in your garden. It is probably worth putting up a decent fence, to protect your garden, but I would not advise putting up a wall. Get a gate and decide who can come into your garden. Watching out for invasive species – make sure you keep the grass cut, the weeds at bay, and pick up any dog poop if you have a dog, so that you get the garden you want. Refuse to accept that a good garden is an accident of birth or an unchangeable constant.
Some prize winners keep playing the lottery, even after they have won the jackpot. So that means they are not playing for the win, because they have already won millions. So why are they playing? We all know that in terms of practical mathematics, our chances of winning the lottery is so vanishingly small it is as if, from an investment point of view, there are no winners at all. So that means that we should play the game for the thrill of playing it, for the benefits of playing it to a conclusion, not because we think we have any shot of winning the grand prize, right? Now let us apply that thinking to our everyday lives. Let us focus on what it means to enjoy the thrill of doing the market research fieldwork we get to do every day and taking each project through to its perfect conclusion.
There are a number of Indiefield staff who have been here more or less since we founded the company over 20 years ago. As time goes by you do not just come to trust valued colleagues like these, they also earn your respect. Once you come to know someone's sensibilities and ambitions, you naturally start to see the world through their eyes and to support their motives and tactics. Once you have seen how they handle market research fieldwork when under pressure and how they take care of business in quieter moments, you get a true sense of what they believe in. In a world of quick quantitative projects and short qualitative engagements, this sort of relationship is utterly priceless. It is so easy to start relationships that have the potential to turn into ones exactly like these. But it remains as hard as it has ever been to make them last.
A study has shown that placebos work even when the patient is told that the drug they are taking has no 'real' medicine in it. Yes, you read that correctly. We know that the placebo effect is real. If we believe we are going to get better, perform better, recruit the focus group, deliver the fieldwork etc., we do. So then why do known placebos work? Because of the process. The steps we go through to remember to take them, then to actually take them, then to stick to the dosing. Over time, we do not think about the placebo itself, we tell ourselves (a lot) that we are taking significant action. It is the same with market research fieldwork. Sometimes it looks like the odds are stacked against us. But we stick to the process and grind through the steps, over and over again. And you know what? We get better.
Market research fieldwork for what? How do we know what the client is ultimately aiming for? It starts with understanding the use case. And before we can do that, we need to have all the information from our client to work out what would delight them. At that point, the only question is, "does this market research fieldwork support the use case we agreed on?" Too often, we are in such a hurry to show off our recruiting and interviewing skills that we forget to address the notion of what we do it for, and what the use case is.
You do not need more time to deliver that market research project. You just need to decide who you will work with and what the fieldwork process will look like. That means being accountable for the project which means making good decisions (with a sense of urgency) about who is going to conduct your fieldwork and recruitment. Always look for the company that will step up and take responsibility so that the things you need get delivered.
Being described as "a self-sufficient" appears to be a worthy goal, but is it really possible if you want to actually get anything done? In market research fieldwork all our productivity, leverage and insight comes from being part of something, not apart from it. We rely on respondents to take part in our research, on our panelists to engage, on our recruiters and interviewers to interrupt. The goal now is to work out who and what our dependencies will be so that our clients can depend on us.
There has always been a bright light around the craftsperson. Someone who takes real care and produces work for the ages. Everyone else might be a hack, or a guru, but a craftsperson was someone we could respect. Perhaps we are entering a new age of craftsmanship. A craftsperson might be particularly talented in the way he or she delivers market research projects. Just because it is not in a craft fair doesn't mean it didn't demand craft.
What do most businesses do with their best clients? If you define "best client" as the client who pays you the most, then you take their money. But what if you define "best client" as the person who brings you new clients through frequent referrals? That client, I think, is worth far more than what any one transaction can bring. In fact, if you think of that client as your best advertisement instead, it changes everything.
One of the things that we always think about is how our role as market research project managers is to "protect the work". To make sure that our clients get the best respondents. To make sure that our clients meet their deadlines. To make sure that our clients can deliver great market research. Our job is to keep the project moving and the choices open so that our client can do his or her work. We protect the project so that our clients can deliver it.